The Islands

VAK

On September 1, 2023 VAK released their third album. It is complex, virulent, and sludgy as fuck.
November 17, 2023

I estimate there are over 100,000 active metal bands across a solid 75 subgenres in the metalverse. Flowcharts and genealogy charts attempting to trace Metal’s growth abound, vainly trying to plot out which came first, who influenced whom, etc. And then there are the questions of what constitutes a subgenre in the first place and, of course, why have them at all. Personally, I think they’re useful as descriptors but useless as boundaries. With that said, one of the more interesting subgenres is Progressive Sludge and one of the more interesting bands in that space is Sweden’s VAK. On September 1, 2023 the band released their third album, The Islands,” via Indie Recordings. It is complex, virulent, and sludgy as fuck.

The Islands” comprises eight tracks and clocks out at just over 50 minutes. It’s a love letter to Stockholm or, to be more accurate, an intimate critique. In promo material the band shares: “Lyrically, the album engages in conflicting visions of the city of Stockholm and its ‘Islands,’ both presenting fundamentally critical aspects and winkling out hopeful notions of the city, and thereby mostly, and literally, focusing on underground dimensions of the city, such as ideas of sewer cafes and underground cinemas.”

The album eases the listener into its environs with “Passport,” a jaunty synth-infused instrumental. The mood then grows angry and murky with the scathing “Panorama,” a cultural indictment that drips of betrayal and spite. And that atmosphere pretty much sticks throughout the album, though tone and tenor undulate and shift. While tracks like “Sewer Café” and “Bodies” are disorienting and disquieting, “Speed of Images” and “Q&A” are object lessons in marching Doom, and still others—“The Map” and “Melody Junkie”—are multi-phased explorations of sound and fury. Altogether, the album weaves and winds like a viper in the marsh following an invisible trail of scent and sound. You never know what to expect from track to track, but it will always be lingering and unforgiving.

I should also note the stunning cover art by Jonathan Hultén which depicts a somber Stockholm precision etched in black and white festering on the shores of a black and crimson Söderström. A perfect visual depiction of the musical and lyrical intent of the album.

So if you were thinking Sweden only has melody and perfect rhythm on tap, think again. Apparently, there is a swampy underground to Sweden that isn’t highlights in their tourism adverts. For some, the underground is to be feared and reviled, for others it can be an island of succor and respite. VAK, “The Islands,” worth the trip.

8 / 10

Excellent

Songwritting

8

Musicianship

9

Memorability

7

Production

8
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"The Islands" Track-listing:

1. Passport

2. Panorama

3. Sewer Café

4. Q & A

5. Speed of Images

6. The Map

7. Bodies

8. Melody Junkie

 

VAK Lineup:

Jesper Skarin – Bass, vocals, percussion

Anders Bartonek – Drums, percussion

Tobias Alpadie – Guitars (lead)

Robin Skarin – Keyboards, synthesizers

Patrik Engström – Guitars (rhythm)

 

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